Taxes have long been a thorn in the side of people everywhere for almost all of human history, and not just because they take your money — though that’s clearly a big part of it. What can be especially frustrating is how complicated and downright bizarre tax laws seem to be the world over. Just ask the people of 17th century Russia: Peter the Great slapped a tax on beards there in the late 1600s.
However, if you think things in today’s America are that much better, you might not have spent enough time digging through state laws, where a variety of very strange, very specific taxes reside. If you live in any of these states, watch out for these bizarre tax laws that could be affecting your budget, as well.
Strangest state taxes across America
Strangest state taxes across America
1. Arkansas: Tattoo Tax
Be prepared to pay extra sales tax in Arkansas if you’re thinking about getting a tattoo — or even electrolysis. Though it’s unlikely any rebellious teens got in trouble for coming home without body hair, electrolysis treatments are taxed an extra 6 percent, along with tattoos and body piercings.
Buying fresh fruit from the grocery store or farmers market doesn’t require you to pay extra sales taxes on it. But if you have a hankering for fruit from a vending machine, it will cost you — a 33 percent tax to be exact. It’s unclear why this is — or why anyone would want to buy fruit out of a vending machine in the first place — but in California, that’s the way it is.
3. Colorado: Coffee Cup Lid Tax
When you go to the coffee shop to get your morning fix, you probably take the lid for your coffee for granted — not in Colorado, though. All nonessential packaging in Colorado is taxed an extra 2.9 percent. Your coffee cup is essential, sure, but the lid that goes on it is not. Extra taxes are also charged on stir sticks, cup sleeves and straws.
What is candy, exactly? According to Illinois lawmakers, there’s a very specific definition. Whoppers? No. Lemon drops? Yes. Apparently, it all comes down to flour. If your sweet snack has no flour in it, it falls under the candy category, which comes with a 6.25 percent higher sales tax on it. If you’re an Illinois resident who doesn’t want to pay the extra tax, consider moving to a state with no sales tax at all.
5. Kansas: Amusement Tax
Although many states charge something called an amusement tax, this one takes the cake. If you take a hot-air balloon ride in the state of Kansas, it’s considered transportation and tax-free. But if you want the security of staying tethered to the ground while in a hot-air balloon, that will cost you 6.5 percent since you’re just there to be amused. When you’re tethered to the ground, you are, unlike Dorothy, very much still in Kansas — and it’ll cost you.
6. Maine: Blueberry Tax
Maine’s state berry is the blueberry — which is considered a superfood — and Maine is a major provider of blueberries in the U.S. So the state charges an extra tax for anything related to the blueberry industry. This tax probably isn’t going to break your bank, but if you grow, purchase, sell, handle or process blueberries in the state of Maine, prepare to pay 1.5 cents per pound.
7. Maryland: Flush Tax
In an attempt to protect the Chesapeake Bay, the Bay Restoration Fund in Maryland is supported by a $5 monthly fee on sewer bills, in addition to an equivalent $60 annual fee for users of a private septic system or holding tank. Commercial or non-residential users are billed at a rate of $5 per month for each equivalent dwelling unit their system serves up to $120,000 a year. So, flushing your toilet in Maryland is now much more expensive than it once was.
8. Minnesota: Fur Tax
Looking good and staying warm will apparently cost you big in Minnesota. If fur is your preferred winter coat material, you’ll be subject to a 6.8 percent sales tax on not just the fur itself, but also the shipping and transportation of it.
9. Alabama: Illegal Drugs Tax
Even though selling drugs is illegal in Alabama, there’s a tax law on the books that allows the state to tax the proceeds from drug dealers’ sales via tax stamps. For example, 10 grams of marijuana is taxed with a $35 stamp. Although drug kingpins most likely aren’t lining up to purchase the stamps and pay taxes on their illegal wares, it doesn’t matter. Anyone who is caught with significant quantities of drugs and didn’t purchase the tax stamps could be charged with tax evasion unless the tax bill is paid in full.
In other states, however, legal marijuana has already become a huge cash cow.
10. Nevada: Loud Live Music Tax
Nevada businesses must pay a 9 percent tax on admission charges to the state whenever there is live entertainment going on at a facility with an occupancy of at least 200. This can include everything from animal stunt performances to comedy and magic. Uncompensated, short performances, however, are tax-free — so you can sing your heart out, at no charge.
11. New York: Bagel Tax
New York residents might want to switch to toast for breakfast. Any bagel that has been sliced or prepared with toppings, like cream cheese or lox, is subject to an 8.875 percent sales tax. If it’s whole or sliced without toppings or spread, however, you can eat it tax-free — unless, that is, you eat it while you’re still in the store; then you’ll also be charged tax.
When creating a decorated cake in Indiana, bakers can expect to pay a tax on the finishing touches. Although frosting in containers or tubes is tax exempt, cake decorations are not. According to the state of Indiana’s tax law, frosting is “not in a bar, drop or piece” and does not qualify as candy, but cake decorations are considered candy because “they are a preparation of sweeteners and flavorings in a drop or piece form.”
13. Tennessee: Litigation Tax
Just to add insult to injury, a tax of up to $29.50 can be levied on Tennessee residents involved in criminal court proceedings. And if that has you so angry you’re looking around for someone to sue, it’s worth noting that many civil cases include a $23.75 tax.
14. Texas: Belt Buckle Tax
If you want to be a cowboy, or at least dress like one, there aren’t any extra taxes on cowboy boots, hats or belts during the state’s three-day sales tax holiday. But a belt buckle is another story. In Texas — where they’re quite popular — there’s a 6.25 percent sales tax on belt buckles because they’re not considered clothes. Belt buckles are still taxable during the state’s annual sales tax holiday.
15. Utah: Sex Tax
Utah residents aren’t exactly known for their inhibitions, but this tax was fought hard. In 2004, the Utah legislature passed a 10 percent tax on admission and sales of merchandise, food, drinks and services for sexually explicit businesses, including those with nude or partially nude people.
Just like Maine taxes the blueberry industry, Virginia taxes every lamb and sheep sold in its state. The tax is pretty modest but will cost you $0.50 per lamb or sheep sold in the state. It should be noted, however, that these particular taxes in Maine and Virginia are there to help fund campaigns for the products being taxed.
17. West Virginia: Sparkler Tax
Although fireworks are illegal in West Virginia, that doesn’t stop people from celebrating with other devices. Sellers of sparklers and other novelties that emit showers, sparks or noise must pay the state’s 6 percent sales tax. If you want to apply for a consumer fireworks certificate, there is a $40 application fee and a hefty $1,000 certification cost per location.
18. New Jersey: Pumpkin Tax
When it comes to buying pumpkins in the Garden State, they aren’t all taxed equally. A pumpkin that’s been cut, varnished, painted or is otherwise intended to be a decoration is subject to a tax. These pumpkins don’t qualify as tax-exempt items because they are clearly not going to be used as food, only as decorations.
19. Hawaii: General Excise Tax
Business owners in Hawaii have to pay a 4 percent general excise tax for selling retail goods and services. But they have the option to pass this tax on to their customers by adding it to the purchase price of whatever goods or services they sell. So, when you’re visiting the Aloha State, hang on to your wallet a little tighter because your money might not go as far as you would like.
Most self-employed taxpayers can deduct health insurance premiums, including age-based premiums for long-term care coverage. Write-offs are available whether or not you itemize, if you meet the requirements.